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How to Be Polite in a Pandemic

How to Be Polite in a Pandemic Affected World

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It’s not always easy to be polite in a pandemic.  After all, many of the things we’re asked to do are in complete opposition of what we’ve always been taught is good etiquette. This is particularly true of efforts toward physical distancing, also sometimes known as social distancing.

It’s Still Important to Be Polite in a Pandemic Crisis

This post isn’t meant to provide you with directions regarding what is appropriate in terms of physical distancing specifics.  Every location – from federal to state to municipal and even specific stores and homes – have their own rules and recommendations in place.  You may also have your own personal choices that help you to feel safe and comfortable in the face of everything that is happening. 

Regardless of where you are or how you choose to follow the rules in place in your area or your home, it remains important to be polite in a pandemic situation.  It is a matter of human decency, caring and compassion.  These are particularly important when nerves are shot, stress is unbelievably high, and we feel farther apart than ever when we need to feel close together.

It’s natural to feel scared, stressed, frustrated, concerned or downright angry. It’s natural to have pet peeves, to have times when we likely shouldn’t have said anything, but we did.  This is a time when we are forming sharp opinions while we’re lost in confusion and uncertainty and when those we love have often formed very different opinions.  That said, when we choose to be polite in a pandemic, it can help to keep our frayed nerves – and the suffering of others – to a minimum.

Safety First, then Etiquette

It’s important to note that the way to be polite in a pandemic has shifted away from the way it was before. The reason is that we are facing a highly contagious disease and safety must come first.  Therefore, etiquette must be formed around safety instead of forgoing safety in order to try to be nice.Emily Post currently recommends consideration, respect and honesty as the primary thoughts while keeping safe. 

That official politeness website underscores (in bold) that “Safety comes before etiquette”.  It acknowledges that respect, consideration and honesty shouldn’t simply be thrown away, but that when there is a direct conflict between the two, safety takes priority.

Social Distancing Politely

Among the primary tips Emily Post recommends for being polite in a pandemic is to voice your respect, consideration and honesty.  Navigating the world without breaching physical distancing rules can be tricky at the moment.  Simply passing someone in a supermarket aisle can be awkward.  Even the basic smile is mainly covered while we wear a mask.

Use your words to express gratitude when someone has shown respect for your social distancing needs.  If someone steps widely out and around you to pass on the sidewalk, say “thank you”.  If someone tries to hold the elevator for you, thank them but assure them that you’ll catch the next one.  Some helpful go-to lines to manage physical distancing include:

  • Sorry, I’m trying to keep 6-feet away (with a smile while stepping back).
  • Excuse me, the line starts back there, we’re just all distanced from each other.
  • After you, please (said in a genuine tone so that you won’t risk sounding sarcastic)
  • Pardon me, I was next.
  • Will you be so kind as to give us just a bit more space, please? (follow this up with a genuine “thank you so much”).

If you are wearing a mask, keep in mind that your voice is muffled and much of your facial expression is covered.  To be polite in a pandemic while wearing a mask, always be sure to speak up and speak clearly.  Put your mask on and practice smiling in the mirror.  Learn how to smile until it reaches your eyes and pay attention to how that feels.  You may have a huge joker-smile on your lips to make it reach your eyes, but nobody can see that part.  The key is to do what you can to ensure your facial expression is a pleasant one when you mean it to be.


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